Spend Valentine’s Day on Love Lane indulging in all your favorite vices. Think a cheese fondue mixed with Long Ireland chocolate porter, chocolate fondue, Swiss cheese, bleu cheese, French and Long Island wines and assorted cakes. Michael Affatato took over The Village Cheese Shop in Mattituck in October 2015 and brings an indispensable amount of wine knowledge to the North Fork.
Affatato lived in France for 10 years, where he ran a Chateau and traveled the world as the export director for a wine wholesaling company. His passport has stamps from Brazil, the United Kingdom, Buenos Aires, the Caribbean and Vancouver. He’s sipped vintages at each stop and has made, sold, distributed and lectured on wine.
“I know and love cheese, but wine runs through my veins, figuratively,” Affatato said. “I got to taste everything everywhere. I saw what worked, what didn’t work. I observed trends.”
Wine and cheese make the ultimate culinary power couple, important in a society that is beginning to see value in slowing things down a bit. One of the biggest trends Affatato has noticed is the desire to make meals into experiences, multi-course meals with gourmet foods instead of an item to check off a to-do list, so he’s is putting his knowledge to work. A friend built and installed a wine bar, and Affatato is expanding The Village Cheese Shop’s wine list, which will offer bottles from France and Long Island.
“French because that’s my background and Long Island because I’m in Long Island wine country and I love the people behind it,” he said. “The quality is great. They’ve come a long way.”
Affatato plans to host soirees with pairing themes, such as hard cider and savory crepes and Alsatian Muenster cheese and local craft beer. He hopes it encourages people to take their coats off and stay a while when they enter The Village Cheese Shop, rather than grabbing takeout on their way to the next stop on their North Fork journey.
“I want people to come in and stay,” Affatato said. “I want them to linger.”
Other than adding to the wine list and bringing in a few knick knacks of his own, like 1930s radios and a 19th century deacon’s bench, for decor, Affatato is committed to sticking to the winning formula of great customer service his predecessor and longtime friend Rosemary Batcheller used for 14 years.
“She has excellent knowledge, she’s extremely upbeat, sincerely upbeat, excellent follow-through, superb business acumen,” he said. “Of all those things, the best thing about her is her personality. She has an amazing personality.”
The two worked together at the shop this summer and Batcheller still has a key. Affatato calls her up when he’s about to do a tasting (“She’s got one of the best palates around,” he said.), and her knowledge of what the customer wants has been priceless during Valentine’s Day preparations.
“I’m a lucky individual, walking into a turn-key operation because the previous owner is a friend and a huge help,” Affatato said.
His dear friend is on his side, and so is The Village Cheese Shop’s location on the burgeoning North Fork.
“We’re seeing more and more city people coming up,” Affatato said. “There are better restaurants than ever before. When I was a kid it was potato farms and a few wineries, now NoFo is its own brand…it’s a good place to be.”